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Back again..apologies to all

I gave up on this thing for a while, obviously. I’ve been busy with (and fairly depressed by) work, and I felt like I was surrendering more free time than I wanted to writing and thinking about food. But I feel like if I quit this blog I’ll have let myself down – I was really enjoying writing and hearing people’s feedback, so I think I’m back again.

This change of heart is due in part to the fact that I’m finally (finally!) going to start visiting farms tomorrow. I’m visiting the largest organic vegetable producer in Michigan – he lives about an hour away, and once I ask permission to write about him, I’ll be talking about him a whole lot more. I’ve also been surprised to see that people are somehow still finding their way to this site – the magic of the internet, I suppose. It makes me think that if I spend less time worrying about how many people are paying attention to me, I’ll make gains in both quality and quantity of posts, without stressing so much.

I’ll put together a “real” post in the next day or two, but for now, here are some updates:

  • I just bought a CSA share from Titus Farms in Leslie, MI. I’ve mentioned them before, and I think they’re pretty wonderful. I’m going out to visit them on Friday as part of my farmers’ market vendor study, and I can’t wait to see the place. Even more so, I can’t wait for it to warm up so they can start giving me food!
  • My wonderful, wonderful boss who has the raw milk share decided that she just can’t keep up with the glut of milk at her house. She lives alone and is getting a gallon a week. So she’s splitting the share with me, and she’s not letting me pay for it. Amazing! I have a half gallon a week of delicious raw milk. This is the third week I’ve been getting it and I’m absolutely thrilled. She seems to like how it’s been going too, and wants us to keep splitting it indefinitely. Sometime this summer she’ll be gone for a couple of weeks, and I’ll get all of her milk too – I think I’ll have to have an experiment in cheesemaking!
  • I got to see John Jeavons give a 2-hour free talk at MSU this past week. I want to say it was amazing, but it was pretty blah. He didn’t say anything beyond what was covered in How to Grow More Vegetables, which was disappointing for me since I’ve already read it several times. He’s also not a particularly gifted speaker, in such a way that the impact and gravity of his message was greatly diminished. The bright spot in all of this is that I brought my mom along, and while she wasn’t very impressed with Jeavons’s rhetorical skills either, she did come to two realizations: she’s only been taking things from her garden, not feeding it at all, and this has had a negative impact on her soil quality and yields; and eating locally produced food really does mean you can’t have eggplant in March.
  • My mom (after hearing Jeavons’s talk) told me she’d buy me compost for my garden as a birthday present. I don’t have anywhere to make my own (damn you, apartment living!).
  • My friend Lauren (with whom I’m splitting my CSA share) and I are contemplating taking a master composting class at Fenner Arboretum in May, so that if I ever have access to enough space to make my own compost, I can do it.
  • Local leeks exist at my food co-op (or at least they did for a few weeks – they seem to have disappeared since). I bought approximately a ton, and I’ve had leeks coming out of my ears ever since.
  • I’ve started my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and onions. The first three are huge. Absurdly huge. They’re making this cold snap almost bearable. I’ll be starting kale, collards, cabbages, and a few other things this weekend. Pictures forthcoming.
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Career Indecision

I haven’t written in a bit. I honestly thought I might give this blog up as a waste of time, but it seems a handful of people are interested (more than I’d anticipated they would be) in the things I’m writing about. Food is a pretty hot topic these days, as well it should be. So I’m back.

The primary reason for my absence is my new job. I have three now: bookkeeping for MOFFA and temping for this MSU grant project as before, and now 20 hours a week at the Capital Area District Library (CADL), stamping books and boring myself to death. That all adds up to 40 hours a week, and means four things: more mony, less time to goof off and write blog posts at my MSU desk, more stress, and (this is the pertinent one today) the sudden urge to reconsider my career options.

I haven’t really mentioned it yet, but while I love food systems work, and do food systems work, I have not been planning on pursuing it as a career. I want to be a librarian. I’ve recently been accepted into Wayne State’s Library and Information Science masters program, and I’ll be starting in the fall. For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to convince CADL to hire me so that I can get me feet wet and make sure this library business is right for me. Well, I’ve finally been hired as a processing page (the lowest of the low, really), and it kind of blows. A lot. I won’t go into specifics, but it’s really not a position I want to keep for very long.

Now, the fact that I hate low-paying mindless repetitive labor (regardless of the fact that it takes place inside a library) does not mean that I won’t love being a librarian. But I’ve invested so much time in getting employed by CADL that this letdown is bigger than it probably should be. With any luck, in a few months a clerk position will open up, I’ll be working with real people, in the company of real librarians, and I’ll enjoy my job and projected career choice a whole lot more. Until then, however, I’m being plagued (no exaggeration) with these doubts about my ability to be happy as a librarian. This was amplified tenfold last night when John and I visited my parents for dinner.

My dad, knowing me pretty well, had saved the latest copy of the New York Times Magazine to show it to me because he thought I’d like the Pollan article (okay, so he doesn’t know me well enough to know that I read it the minute it came out, but he’s pretty perceptive nonetheless). We talked about it for quite some time, and then started talking about the farmers’ market vendor study I’m working on (it’s going wonderfully, might I add). And he asked me point blank: “I know you want to be a librarian, but have you every thought about getting your masters in the CARRS department instead?”

I really didn’t want him to ask me that question, because it’s been in the back of my head for months. I work for a grad program (the aforementioned CARRS – Community Agriculture Recreation and Resource Studies at MSU) that offers a specialization in Community, Food and Agriculture. I have friends in the program, and I’ve been working on various projects there for about three years now. When people there hear I’m going to grad school, they all assume I’ll be at MSU, in CARRS. Why am I not?

I want a job when I graduate. And I have no idea what I would do with a Community Food and Ag degree. I am geographically limited to the greater Lansing area (or Mid-Michigan in general, if I decide I can handle a commute) because John has already established his career here (not that I mind – I love Lansing and want to stay), and that will really make it difficult to find a job when I’m done with school. It will take a while to find a good position within a library, and it would take even longer to find work in some unspecified area of food systems research.

Also, I’m helping multiple professors prepare the readings for the classes I would be taking if I were admitted into the CARRS masters program, and because of that, I’m doing half of the readings already, for fun. The professors in the department are my employers and co-workers, and we discuss food systems-related issues all day long. There is very little I would learn, I suspect, from the program itself. I’d be buying a degree, essentially. On the other hand, library science and information management are completely new to me, and I love learning new things.

Potential selling points of studying community food and ag? I’d love it, for one. Also, I’d be almost guaranteed acceptance and an assistanceship, as I’ve already been working for half of the CARRS professors for years. It’s not quite a toss up, but it’s enough to make me uneasy. I’ve taken John’s advice and I’m trying not to think about it too hard for right now. I’m going to be reading some of the recommended books for Wayne State’s library school, and talking to friends in the CARRS program about their career options after graduation. I’ll see what feels right.

I think that I will resolve this shortly, and my guess is that library science will win out. But I’m rededicating myself in advance to pursuing food systems writing, researching and reading as my Primary Hobby for a good long time, and this blog, if all goes as planned, will become a big part of that.

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which of these is not  like the other?

I’m finding myself in the rather unusual situation of being a temp who loves her job. I’m trying not to get too attached to this, because well, it’s temporary, but this is hard for a few reasons: (1) I’ve been working there for the better part of three years, albeit in a different capacity than I am now. (2) This new market vendor study I’m working on is going to be crazy fun. And (3), I kind of wish I were pursuing a career that related in some way to food systems. I also really want to be a librarian. I was just offered a low-level part time position in my local library. I accepted, of course, so I’ll be working 40 hours a week, split among my three jobs. And it’s becoming clearer every day how torn I am between these two directions. So, yeah, I’m trying to not love my job too much, but I know that’s never going to happen.

Anyway, I bring up my love for my job because I think I need to enforce a little professional distance here on this blog. I’d love to talk all about this market vendor survey that I’ll be spending so much time on, but I have a feeling that might not be a great idea in terms od keeping my job. At the very least, I will be asking permission from my boss and the farmers to publish draft versions of farm case studies here, and I think they’ll probably consent to that: it’s really just good publicity for the farmers, and farmers could use more publicity. Beyond that, though, I don’t think I’ll be writing about my day-to-day activities on this project, and as much as I’d love to, I won’t be writing about how frustrating temping at a huge research university can be. Why? Because I’m classy, that’s why. So while I’d love to go on and on about this preliminary market vendor meeting I had today, and how cool it was, I won’t.

In other news, I’ve been reading  cookbooks like it’s my (fourth) job. I’ve always been a very avid reader, partially enforced by the fact that I majored in English, and was “forced” to read 25+ books every semester. However, now that I’ve graduated, I’m finding it really relaxing to read slowly. For once in my life I can take a month to read a really good book (currently: Rushdie’s Satanic Verses), and not feel guilty about taking my time and enjoying it. However, when I go two weeks without completing a book, I start feeling guilty and antsy – something in me loves the act of closing a book and knowing it’s done. I’ve been taking care of that itch mostly by reading lots of graphic novels (new favorite: The Invisibles, by Grant Morrison), which I can plow through in a day with no problem. Recently, though, I’ve started devouring cookbooks. There’s no plot, so I can put them down whenever I want. They’re practical (moreso now that I have time to cook in the evenings). And I just like them. So I picked up three from the library today: Recipes from America’s Small Farms, Simply in Season, and The Sustainable Kitchen. I’m pretty low on ideas for what to cook in the winter that revolves around Michigan produce. Reviews and recipes to follow! I got a bread baking book too, Bread Alone. That has nothing to do with local food (at least until I find a source for local flour), but it’s fun anyway.

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Raw Milk

 

half-gallon from shetler dairy

 

Kate over at the Accidental Hedonist had a post last week discussing a Salon article about raw milk. It’s pretty basic and introductory, but seems to grasp the complexity of the issue quite well. In a nutshell: no, not all raw milk is safe, but unpasteurized milk from grass-fed cows processed in a sterile environment can be safe, and can have greater nutritional value than industrially-produced pasteurized milk. Thank you.

I don’t drink raw milk. Not because I think it’s unsafe, but because I’m pretty much broke all the time, raw milk is fairly expensive, and my local cow-share program would require that I take a gallon of milk home every week. There’s no way we could go through that much dairy. It also helps that John is in the habit of sterilizing everything he touches with Lysol– I imagine he might be more than a little bit taken aback by the idea of not pasteurizing the milk on his cereal.

To clarify, the sale of raw milk is illegal in Michigan. Like, really illegal. In 1948 we were the first state in the union to outlaw the stuff, and ever since, we’ve been happily flash-heating low quality milk so that it lasts longer on our shelves and we can tell ourselves it’s cleaner. To circumvent this law, crafty folks have started cow-shares, organizing groups of people to buy “shares” in a cow. You see, it’s perfectly legal to drink raw milk from your own cow – you just can’t buy it. So, each week, one member of the cow-share will drive to the farm, pick up gallons and gallons of fresh milk, and transport it to a pickup location. The downside, as I mentioned, is that you have to take a gallon of milk home every week. That’s a lot of milk for two people. Another downside is that the Michigan authorities aren’t too keen on the idea of cow-shares, and just a few months ago a farmer was “busted” (yeah, like in a drug raid) because he didn’t follow regulations to the letter.

So we don’t buy the raw stuff. When I finally collapsed back into the arms of my long lost dairy, John and I drank Horizon Organic milk, until I read it wasn’t, um, organic. Fortunately, about six months ago my parents purchased some property two hours north of us, in Grayling. It’s a pretty little town on the AuSable River, home to Goodale’s Bakery, which happens to sell milk from the Shetler Family Dairy. While it is pasteurized, it’s non-homogenized, hormone and antibiotic free, and from grass-fed cows. It even comes in cute reusable glass bottles. My parents go up there at least every other week, and come back home with delicious quasi-local milk. I make yogurt with it once or twice a week, and some time I’ll make paneer with it, when I get around to it. I’m not one to claim organic food tastes better than conventional (because really, it doesn’t), but this milk tastes better than any national brand junk I’ve had. Ounce-for-ounce, it’s no cheaper than raw milk, but I can buy as little as I want to, I don’t have to come up with a slideshow presentation to convince John of its healthy attributes, and best of all, I don’t have to feel like I’m in league with those nutjobs over at the Weston Price Foundation (shiver).

Someday, though, when I have more money and more people to feed (or more uses for milk during any given week) I imagine I’ll make the switch.

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the lake at Flying J Farm

Otherwise known as “my first post.”

I’m not exactly a foodie. In fact, I’m not at all, mostly because I think the term “foodie” is one of the most pretentious nouns I could possibly use to describe myself. But.

I love food, all kinds of food, and over the past several years I’ve become more and more interested in the ways that food production and consumption affect the environment, the economy, and our health. I started thinking about these things when I, at 17 years old, watched far too many PETA propaganda videos and became an obnoxious self-absorbed vegan. After a short stint at Oberlin College (where I was surrounded by hundreds of self-absorbed vegans), I dropped out and came back home to Lansing where I waitressed for a while. Working in the food service industry taught me a lot about food: I realized I cared less about animal liberation than I did about food waste and overconsumption. Quickly, vegan turned into freegan, which is equally obnoxious, if only for its dizzying inconsistency and longwinded explanations.

The spring after I started waitressing , I took a summer off (off of what? that’s a great question.) and moved back to Ohio, this time to live in a bug-infested trailer on a 250-acre organic farm. That sounds huge, but a good deal of the property was made up of a lake, a pond, and a large stand of sugar maples. Dick, the farmer, grew hard red wheat, corn, and soybeans, and it was my job to run the 2-acre vegetable garden. I discovered muscles in my arms I never knew I had, I learned I could handle being alone in the middle of Ohio with a 50-something evangelical Christian bachelor, and I learned an awful lot about food systems and farming. Oh, and I ate better than I ever had in my life.

I spent the next two years at school, living in a co-op in an attempt to eat according to my newly-strengthened principles on a limited budget. It mostly worked. The poorer I became, however, the less I found myself caring about heirloom tomatoes. I was reinvigorated when I started working at my current job with the Mott Group for Sustainable Agriculture at MSU, and decided to study abroad for a semester in northern India. While there, I had a 6-week internship with a seed bank/community development NGO in the Himalayan foothills that really brought all the knowledge I had about local food into perspective.

Each valley in the Almora district where I was working had a different ecosystem, with surprisingly different crop varieties. After the advent of the Green Revolution, biodiversity in the region plummeted, and women (who provided the bulk of the agricultural labor) lost one of their only sources of income. They could no longer save their own seeds, nor could they sell their unique products for a good price at market. They became dependent on multinational corporations, and most devastatingly, they lost their place in their society as repositories of invaluable agricultural knowledge. Aadhar, the orgnaization I was working for, established the seed bank, and encouraged women to return to the crops that would truly support the community and themselves. I was of limited use to the organization, but they provided me with a phenomenal education of the effects of globalized industrialized monoculture.

While I was in India, I started eating dairy again, because veganism comes off as pretty rude there. I tried going back when I got home, but it made less and less sense to me, and I finally decided I’d stick to ovo-lacto. I’m back to where I was now, working for the Mott Group and struggling to eat well on a limited income. My boyfriend John has become a huge part of my food-education, coming for a very different background than my own. Through him I’m getting a better understanding of how much of the country eats, and we’re gradually shaping each other’s perceptions of health and sustainability as we go. That’s all for now.

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